Sunday, March 16, 2008

More Maimed God... And a Boring History Alert

Maps Nearing Completion
I should start by saying I’ve done a few rewrites – in essence, there’s been “feature creep” in TMGS, and so the number of maps I will need for Act III has grown to 19. I have completed 3 more since my last Maimed God update, and I now have 13 Act III maps done, 3 more begun, and 3 more left to start.

I’m including a nice shot of the approach to Waterdeep.

As an aside, people may be wondering why the lands closer to the city are so bare when there is lush forestation further away. This is on purpose. Castle-building 101: clear away all trees to at least the distance of an arrow’s flight. That way, while your defenders get to hide behind the defensive wall’s crenellations, archers attacking you will have no cover from your counter-fire (unless they bring their own). I’m not sure that people playing the module will realize this is on purpose or if they will just assume it’s crappy map design, so I put a lot of stumps near the walls to show that the trees were cut down. I also did this “tree cutting” on The Bastion of the Maimed God maps, shown here.

The Other Boleyn Girl
Yesterday, my wife and I went to see "The Other Boleyn Girl." Overall, I thought it was... interesting. Fortunately, the movie (and the book from which it was written) claims to be “historical fiction,” so I don’t have to be a prat and point out the numerous inaccuracies. Suffice it to say, I pray no one actually confuses this movie with actual fact.

Sorry, but I have to say my one caveat again before I proceed. As I mentioned during my discussion of "Elizabeth: the Golden Age," the Tudor era is slightly after what I consider my forte; I’ve actually studied the later Plantagenets far more, but I certainly know enough about the Tudors to be dangerous.

All that said, I rather enjoyed the movie. It was much better than 99% of the near-continuous drivel Hollywood has taken to putting out the last few years. The picture presented of the Tudor court is a dark one in which everyone, even the king, is trapped within stifling layers of duty, protocol, and centuries of expectations. One can not help but leave the theater thinking, “Thank God we don’t have to put up with that anymore!”

Nearly every moment of the film feels stiflingly claustrophobic with a heavy dose of browns and grays infusing nearly every scene with only the occasional splashes of reds, purples, and greens, mostly marking the presence of the royal entourage. Several scene breaks utilize silhouetted castles or manor houses against darkened skies with time-lapsed clouds whipping by, an effect that inevitably presents a gothic feel, and from the moment the Boleyn girls’ mother cautions their father that those who play with the royal court inevitably get burned, for in Henry VIII’s world, treason is simply what the king says it is, one knows that the story isn’t going to end well.

The book has been said to be a picture of how terrible the lives of women were in this era. Again, I could argue with the accuracy of some of the presented details, but by this depiction, it would be hard to disagree. Both Anne and Mary are essentially whored to the king by their father and uncle in an attempt to further their position. Their mother is forced to endure this humiliation, all the while objecting but ultimately ignored. Even the queen, Catherine of Aragon, is forced to admit the two sisters into her entourage despite the full knowledge they are there only so that her husband, the king, has easier access to them. Mary, once impregnated, is shunted into a tiny room for months to give birth even as the king ignores her and eventually turns his attention to Anne. And that’s the better fate, for when Henry in turn tires of Anne, he infamously has her executed on false charges.

But I would argue that the men get off little better in the film other than the uncle, who's a first-rate bastard. The Boleyn girls’ father is heavily indebted and yet still forced to pay for the extravagant tastes of one of Henry’s processions. Mary’s husband is given a place in Henry’s court, but he would plainly rather live with his wife and their eventual children in the countryside. The whole set-up, of course, is a transparent ploy, for he can not refuse the king, and so he is forced to bring his wife within Henry’s reach where he must endure their affair and the bastards it heaps upon his family. Anne and Mary’s brother, George, is forced to marry a girl he despises, and he’s eventually used as a convenient pawn to bring about his sister’s disgrace, and he’s executed for it to boot.

Even Henry himself, though he obviously gets the best deal, is being crushed under the weight of centuries of expectations regarding the birth of a male heir. Now, I realize most people probably roll their eyes at that, given the plethora of problems endured by the other characters; my explanation for this is pretty long, though I actually have tried to shorten it, but I’ll put it at the end and just go on with a discussion of the film.

Where the movie really works is in its core examination of the relationship of its three principles: Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as her sister, Mary, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII. It’s odd that an English director would choose non-English actors for all three leads (this decision has been criticized in the British press from what I understand), but I think the three did very well. Henry comes across as alternately charming and cruel, passionate and prone to flights of fancy, but driven, selfish, and determined to get what he wants. Anne is shown to be scheming and conniving, willing to smile to people’s faces while plunging the knife in from behind, all in her quest for greater power and station. Mary is naïve and simple. She wants a normal life, but finds herself swept up in the king’s charisma, only to be cruelly and uncomprehendingly tossed aside when she is no longer of use. Yes, Henry may be a king, but there’s no fairy tale here.

And this is the core reason as to why I like the film. While some of the historical details are wanting, the film did what I consider to be quintessential in historical dramas: it got the “feel” right. In other words, everything else aside, I think a movie-goer could walk away from the film with a pretty good understanding of what Henry and Anne were like especially, even if the specific details were off. I have a little more reservation about the portrayal of Mary; most scholars would probably say she was not nearly so naïve, but there’s so little to go on about her that it’s hard to get too upset about it.

Two quick asides. While I appreciate the film’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn, I do think it’s a bit one-sided. Contrary to the film, she had nothing to do with Mary’s fall from the king’s favor, and there is every indication that the sisters were reasonably close. She saw that Mary, one of Henry’s previous mistresses was used and cast aside, and so she played a harder game with Henry in an effort to secure her long-term position. Her actions led to the removal of one queen and her own installation as the successor, but it only made her despised by the people, disrespected by the courtiers, and trapped by court protocols. Entirely dependent on Henry’s good will for her continued survival, she resorted to ever more desperate measures to secure it as she continually failed to produce the male heir he desired. So in my opinion, Anne was scheming, etc., but there was also a tragic element to her as well. A good book to flesh out her character, for those interested, is Mistress Anne by Carolly Erickson. By the way, I obviously found the book more interesting than many of Amazon’s reviewers did.

Second, in one of the film’s more shocking moments, it actually gave some credence to the whole incest theory. My wife – and many in the theater – started to groan when the idea was hinted at... at which point I leaned over and casually mentioned that Anne actually was executed for, among other things, incest with her brother, George. Of course, the vast bulk of historians believe the charge was absolutely bogus and simply used as a device to make the queen so reprehensible that none would protest the incredibly unusual step of actually executing her. And if the innocent brother also had to be executed... well, who cares, right? Anyway, the movie clearly shows that Anne and her brother didn’t actually go through with it, but I was surprised that it even depicted her considering it. I’m not sure what I think about that little detail to be honest.

A Divergence

Why do I think Henry VIII was also trapped by the court? To put the years in perspective, Henry reigned from 1509 to 1547. Born around 1491, he would have been very aware of the then-immediate history, which I'll briefly sketch here.

In 1377, Edward III died, leaving his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II, as his heir. Richard’s reign was an unmitigated disaster that eventually led to his deposition and murder in 1399. In 1422, Henry V died prematurely, leaving his one-year-old son to be crowned as Henry VI. The infant king, and the lack of monarchical authority that entailed, played a large part in the English collapse in The Hundred Years’ War. The final defeat at Castillon came in 1453, and by 1455, the first Battle of St. Albans kicked off the War of the Roses, a thirty-year period of strife within the government that permanently and irrevocably damaged the monarchy, bankrupted the country, destroyed the aristocracy, and eroded English position in Europe. I don’t really want to get into a long (and boring to all but me) dissertation into why A led to B led to C, but the links are pretty strong.

And, of course, the last chapter of the Wars of the Roses was a sordid mess. Edward IV died in 1483, leaving his twelve-year-old son, Edward V, as his heir and an eight-year-old sibling, Richard, Duke of York, as the spare. However, this arrangement did not last long, as their uncle, Edward IV’s younger brother, another Richard, had both murdered (infamously in the Tower of London) so he could take the throne as Richard III. (And if any members of the Richard III society read this, don’t bother; you know Richard had them “done in!”)

So most people who know a little about the reign of Henry VIII inevitably view him as some kind of misogynistic monster who was just obsessed with having sons. And in my opinion this is probably true at this specific point in his reign, but there is a bit more to the story than that. Many today probably can not fathom the degree to which the birth of a healthy male heir was required for national stability under the version of the monarchy that existed in the sixteenth century. To one burdened for caring for the state, the succession was not a minor concern.

To put it another way, Henry came to the throne as an eighteen-year-old in 1509. For over twenty years, he ruled as most other monarchs before him had. His queen, Catherine of Aragon, produced one healthy female, Mary, and also had several miscarriages, still-births, and (I believe) one son who died within days. For the most part, Henry took all this in stride... until about the time he turned forty. In what will be a very familiar pattern for people even today, it was around his fortieth birthday that Henry seems to have begun seriously thinking of his own mortality. In addition, it was at that point obvious that his wife (who was older than he was) was no longer able to have children, and he had to realize that something had to be done soon if he was to have an adult male heir at the time of his death. At this point, the series of events most people already know about were put into action, and Henry, a king who had actually once been commended by the Pope for his defense of Catholicism against the Germanic protestant reformation, actually chose to break with the Church rather than endure the prospect of an unsure succession.

Once this decision was made, Henry lacked patience with the solution. When Anne had first a girl, Elizabeth, and then a still-born son, it was over for her. The biological truths aside, Anne had tied her own hands with the promise, actually stated according to the accounts, that she could produce boys by the cartload for him. Unfortunately for her, Henry could no longer afford to waste twenty years on someone who then could not, and if you’ve already shown you can get rid of one legitimate queen...

Incidentally, Henry’s fears did indeed come true. He died in 1547, and the civil unrest that resulted lasted until well into the reign of Elizabeth I, say at least until 1565 or even 1570. That’s 18 to 23 years of instability because a male heir of suitable age did not exist at the time of Henry’s death.

Oh, and though this may sound like a defense of Henry, it isn’t meant to be. I’m just trying to bring a little bit of historic perspective to a well-known story. Actually, I think that Henry was a quite the magnificent bastard for many more reasons than are outlined here.

5 comments:

Liso said...

I've been watching The Tudor's. Which I am not quite sure how historically accurate the show is, It is a very enjoyable series. Thanks for the tid bits on Henry.

And the top screen show is awesome!

Liso :)

Tiberius209 said...

liso,

I don't get Showtime, but I've thought about trying to dredge up the DVDs (if they are even out yet). So I don't have the foggiest idea how accurate it is... other than, as I said, Henry was closer to thirty-seven or even forty when his affair with Boleyn began. (She, on the other hand, was closer to twenty-five depending on which accounts you believe.)

However, that series seems to have opted more for a younger and sexier leading man.

Liso said...

Yes, the lead is only going on 31. But he looks pretty on screen? LOL
I'd recommend watching it. It is very entertaining even if it is not historically accurate. It gets a bit to romantic mushy at times. However the balance of betrayal, ruthlessness, and the random beheading are all there. :)

Now I want to actually go look up more accurate facts about Henry. Do a comparison between history and the show.

Maia said...

Regarding the "Maimed God Saga", I wonder would it be possible to start as a Monk and play as Monk / Cleric/ Sacred Fist ? I understand that it is supposed to be a Cleric-only mod, but Monks seem thematically close enough. Even if starting as a Cleric is required, it would be nice if there were enough Monk items available to make this combo feasible.

Regarding Henry VIII - who knows what would have happened if he'd just found a suitable husband for Mary and tried to get his male heir from that quarter? History shows that frantic efforts to get a male heir at all costs at such a relatively advanced age (for the time) usually backfired badly. As they did with him.

Tiberius209 said...

maia,

The story is meant for a pure cleric, though there will be nothing to keep you from leveling in monk if desired. The campaign will require you to start with five cleric levels, as access to third level spells is, at the very least, recommended. As for the inclusion of monk items, I don't know if you've played the SG series, but this one will be like that in that there will be very few magic items at all.

It's a little premature now, but I will be putting out a character creation guide when the release is imminent that will detail ways to maximize enjoyment of the module. Hopefully that will clarify some things.

As for your prospect of Mary, having Henry's heir, it had been tried (and moderately successful) before, as you probably know, and one has to think the idea occured to him. But Mary was 17 when Henry married Boleyn, which means she was around 14-15 when Henry had mentally broken with Catherine. Prior to Henry shifting his attention to Anne, Mary had had many potential husbands. When it became clear that Henry was going to try elsewhere, it would have been a disaster to allow Mary to also produce a potential heir, especially given Henry's break with the church and Mary's staunch support of Catholicism.

If Mary had had a son a little older than Edward VI when Henry died, the situation would have been interesting to say the least given the religious division of the day, especially with the still unclear status of the Salic Law in light of Edward III's earlier justification for war with France.

So yes, who knows, but Mary would have had to have a son delivered by the age of 15 at the absolute latest to have Henry seriously consider this, at which point he could have saved the break with the church and handled Anne another way (i.e. essentially counter-bargaining that mistress was as good as she was going to get, so take it or leave it). If Mary had borne a son any later than this, I can only imagine it would have been a bigger mess even than what developed.